Category Archives: Jesus

President Trump’s Belligerence and the Bible: a Study In Contrasts

President Trump’s Christian Supporters Would Get

Offended If I Told Them What Was Really In the Bible

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

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why dont U just obey
I met a man not too long ago who insisted that the King James Bible is the only legitimate version of the Bible available. As far as he was concerned, all other versions currently in print, including my NIV, NLT and Amplified Bibles were “not from God”. I don’t care to elaborate on this much except to say that I don’t agree with such an egocentric viewpoints as that. All I can do is pray for that man, because there will be no egocentric people in heaven! But I’m using this example to make the point that there are a lot of conservative right-wingers like that individual who have some views about the Bible and Christianity that are totally inconsistent with Scripture. Since these people’s beliefs are in fact totally inconsistent with Scripture, then the question becomes why do religious extremists on the right (and Christianity has lots of them just like the Muslims do) get away with proclaiming what Jesus would or wouldn’t support (such as endless wars and inequality)? The answer is simple: Most conservatives have not read the Bible. Not even once! Of the ones who do, an overwhelming number of Christians are astonishingly illiterate when it comes to understanding the Bible’s teachings.

On hot-button social issues, from same-sex marriage to abortion, Biblical passages are invoked without any real understanding of their context or true meaning. What America needs is Christianity without the dogma, and faith without the spiritual pollution of conservative politics. Nondenominational Christianity, with the 2 greatest commandments of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 24, verses 34-39) being first and foremost – and viewed from a nonpolitical perspective – would be far closer to what Jesus originally taught than the ultra-conservative slant being espoused all over the right-wing media today (and a heck of a lot of ‘churches’!). That’s why it’s vital as we live in these Last Days to help the helpless whenever possible. In so doing, we become ambassadors for Christ while living our lives in complete accordance with God’s will instead of our own. It surprises me how little many ‘Christians’ know about what is still the world’s most popular book!

 

So how much do secular Americans know of the book that one-third of the country believes to be literally true (like I do)? Various surveys that I pulled up on the Internet show that 60 percent of Christians can’t name more than five of the Ten Commandments; 12 percent of adults think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife; and nearly 50 percent of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. A 2013 Gallup poll showed 50 percent of Americans can’t name the first book of the Bible, while roughly 82 percent believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a biblical verse. So, if Americans get an F in the basic fundamentals of the Bible, what hope do they have in knowing what Jesus would say about endless wars, the decimation of labor unions, unfair and illegal taxation, universal health care, and Snap benefits? It becomes easy to spread lies when no one knows what the truth is.

 

I think that’s probably why the ‘Christian Right’ is constantly re-branding Progressives and those on the Left – who want free public higher education, Medicare for all and wealth redistribution – into traitors to their country or party just because they disagree. The truth, whether conservatives like it or not, is not only that Jesus was a meek and mild liberal Jew who spoke softly in parables and metaphors – except when He threw the money changers out of the Temple in Matthew 21, verses 12-13. But, when one reads down a couple more chapters in any of the 4 Gospels, it was the religious conservatives (the Pharisees and Sadduccees) who had Jesus killed! The fact that He rose again on the morning of the third day tells me everything I need to know about Jesus’ view of political conservatives. American conservatives, however, have morphed Jesus Christ into a muscular macho warrior, in much the same way the Nazis did with Hitler, as a means of combating “terrorism”, which has become a synonym for American world domination.

 

Knowing the Bible requires a contextual understanding of authorship, history and interpretation. For instance, when Republicans were justifying their cuts to the food stamp program back in 2013, they quoted the 2nd book of Thessalonians: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” One poll showed that more than 90 percent of Christians believe this New Testament quote is attributed to Jesus. It’s not! This was taken from a letter written by Paul to his church in Thessalonica. Paul wrote to this specific congregation to remind them that there were too many people in the congregation that were freeloading off that church. Only a few were doing all the work and making the majority of the financial contributions, and everybody else was just hanging around for the free food (see 2nd Thess. chapter 3, verses 6-15). What Paul did say is that anyone too lazy to work shouldn’t expect anything at dinner time, and that’s just common sense, not politics.

 

What often comes as a surprise to your average Sunday wine-and-cracker Christian is the New Testament did not fall from the sky the day Jesus ascended to Heaven. The New Testament is a collection of writings, 27 in total, of which 12 are credited to the authorship of the apostle Paul, four to the Gospels (Luke also wrote the Book of Acts), and the balance with the remaining apostles. What we do know about Jesus, at least according to the respective gospels, is that Jesus’ sentiments closely echoed the social and economic policies of the political left in the 21st century. The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5 read like a Progressive Christian mission statement: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is kingdom of heaven,” “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called ‘Sons of the living God’.” Jesus also said, “Judge not, or else you shall be judged, for you who pass judgment do the same things yourselves”, and “Sell what you have and give it to the poor, so you can have treasure in heaven” (I’m paraphrasing here). Sounds an awful lot like wealth redistribution to me, a societal woe that urgently needs to be addressed if ever there was one. So when Republicans, our current president included, accuse president Obama and Progressives like myself of being brown-skinned socialists who wants to redistribute the wealth, they meant Jesus, who they would surely crucify if he were to return today!

 

Biblical illiteracy is what has allowed conservative wing-nuts like president Trump to get away with shaping their image to resemble that of Jesus, like Washington is doing us a great big favor by being in charge. That’s why politicians on the right can get away with saying ‘the Lord commands’ that our health care, criminal justice, public schools, retirement pensions and transportation systems, together with all the rest, should be run by corporations for profit. When the Christian Right believes it’s channeling Jesus when they say it’s immoral for government to tax billionaires to help pay for health care, education and the poor, they’re actually channeling atheism. When the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and “the real Alex Jones” insist the poor are worthless, immoral and lazy, that’s not Jesus, it’s atheism! It’s impossible to love God while simultaneously despising his creations! The price this country has paid for biblical illiteracy is measured by how far we’ve moved toward atheism’s “utopia”. In the past three decades, we’ve slashed taxes on corporations and the wealthy, destroyed labor unions, deregulated financial markets, eroded public safety nets, and committed to one globalist corporate free-trade agreement after another. With the far-right, Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Koch brothers’ Citizens United, the flow of billions of dollars from anonymous donors to the most reliable voting bloc of the Republican Party – the Christian Right – will continue to perpetuate the Biblically incompatible, anti-government, pro-deregulation-of-business, health-care-for-none-but-the-rich, Tea Party American version of Christianity, and I for one have had more than enough!!

 

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Free book excerpt #13 from Progressive Christian author and blogger Rev. Paul J. Bern

“Sole Survivor” by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Now available in print, digital and audio formats. Offered on Amazon or from our website

 

Sole_Survivor

Sole Survivor

Chapter 5

Restoration by God, Driven Away by Man

I finally got out of jail on the night of December 17th, 1999 after an agonizing 4 month wait to get my court case done and over with. The main thing I remember about that night was how incredibly cold it was. I had been arrested in early fall near the end of September, and all I had on were casual slacks and a polo shirt. After treating myself to a full sit-down dinner at an all-night restaurant across the street from the jail, I was forced to make my way on foot to the nearest place that I was sure would be open all night, which was the community hospital on the suburban east side of Atlanta about 2 or 3 miles away. So off into the freezing cold I went as I hiked over to the hospital. The two main things that motivated me to get there were the lack of outer clothing and the fact that I was already a nervous wreck from having spent those 4 months in jail without the benefit of my bipolar medication. The clinic there – and it barely qualified as such – were giving me 2 different medications that I had never heard of. They did just barely work, but they were a poor substitute for my regularly prescribed ‘meds’. I recall getting to the ER about 3:30 AM that morning. To make a long story short, I spent the next 13 days at an inpatient clinic right down the street from the hospital. While I was there I got stabilized on my regular medications, and I managed to get back in touch with the district manager where I had been working when all this mess first started. I had contacted him when I was first brought to jail, trying to raise some bail money. They could not help me with that, I was told, but my job would be kept open for me until I was released. They stayed true to their word and rehired me upon my release. That Wang Global district manager’s name was James Dean. God bless you, James, wherever you are.

I checked out of the hospital on a blustery Friday afternoon, and I started back to work the following Monday morning. This gives me pause with regards to God’s eternal mercy, the loving way He chastises us but then restores us – but not always immediately, because His timing is always perfect. Did you ever notice that about God? His timing is always letter-perfect and never too late. Had that gone any other way, when I got out of jail I could have immediately become homeless, wandering the streets without a coat when the outside temperature was around 35 degrees, and having lost the new job I had just acquired 5 months before. Instead, and by the grace of God alone, I had landed on my feet and I was able to miraculously pick up where I had left off before all the trouble started. I give Jesus all the credit for my success, and I give him all my praise, thankfulness, and honor!

I worked that entire year, right up until Christmas time. That’s when they laid us off. But it was the way it was done that bothered me the most. One day a month or two beforehand, a 15-passenger van pulled up and parked in front of the office, and these 15 technicians from the Philippines get out and enter the office conference room. The door gets shut behind them, and it isn’t until the next day that the rest of us found out they were there as our replacements. The senior techs, and by this point I was one of them, were instructed to train one of them apiece. One of them said it was unfair, and he refused to train any of them, saying he could make his job last at least a week longer by not having a replacement trained and ready to go. To no one’s surprise, he was fired on the spot, right where he stood, and it didn’t seem to matter to him. To this day I regard this as a good example of what can and should happen to racists in the workplace.

I spent the next six months searching like crazy for a replacement job. Unfortunately, the dot-com financial crash was happening right around this time, and the computer/IT industry had pretty much came to a standstill. So I did what lots of other technical professionals like myself were doing at the time: I went back to school to get my Microsoft certification. I already had my degree, plus an A+ certification and two Dell certifications, so for me the Microsoft certification made sense (remember, this was back in 2001). But instead of making me more marketable like I thought, what few job offers I did have seemed to evaporate. All together I went for over 14 months without drawing a paycheck. My saving grace during this time was that I had substantial savings, otherwise I would surely have been homeless by that time. But homelessness escaped me when I used the small pickup truck that I owned at the time to go to work as a private contractor for a courier company. I had to take a substantial pay cut from the $35.00 per hour I had been making as a Dell service contractor, but by now my savings balance was nearly depleted. By dodging homelessness the way I had, I thought I had dodged a bullet, but I had only delayed the inevitable for a few more years. I will have more to say on that in the next chapter.

This book is available on-line from Progressive Christian Ministries of Greater Atlanta at www.pcmatl.org/books-and-donations (free shipping, tax deductible) for $12.95.

Or, get it on Kindle at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D154606011&field-keywords=sole+survivor%3A+one+man%27s+testimony+for+Christ&rh=n%3A154606011%2Ck%3Asole+survivor%3A+one+man%27s+testimony+for+Christ

Get it in audio format at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daudible&field-keywords=sole+survivor%3A+one+man%27s+testimony+for+Christ&rh=i%3Aaudible%2Ck%3Asole+survivor%3A+one+man%27s+testimony+for+Christ

Watch the video at http://youtu.be/5Bxi7x0nUc0 Thanks so much!

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Jesus keeps up with the times, but some churches are barely hanging on

Why Technology Is Reinventing

Church As We Have Known It

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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Don't Look Back
The celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible was back in 2011, and Bible publishers are still ostentatiously commemorating that landmark by producing an abundance of gorgeous hand-bound versions complete with illustrations – for a premium price, of course. The hoopla is entirely justified, since the King James Bible revolutionized Bible reading, bringing Scripture into a common vernacular for the first time for the English-speaking world. Although I personally use other versions (NIV, NLT, & Amplified), it is not too much to say that the King James Bible – mass produced as it was – democratized religion by taking it out of the hands of the clerical few and giving it to the many, thanks to a cutting edge technology from back then called the printing press.

 

Today, another much bigger revolution in the Church is underway. Today’s technology goes a giant step further, making Scripture – in any language and any translation – accessible to anyone on earth with a decent mobile phone. It need not be a “Smart-phone” anymore, just a basic one with a decent sized screen is all you need. Just like the 500-year-old Protestant Reformation, which was aided by the advent of the printing press and which helped give birth to the King James Bible, changes wrought by new Web-based technology have the ability to expand the reach and scope of the gospel of Jesus Christ like we previously never have. In the face of church leaders who claimed that only they could interpret the Bible for the common people, Reformation leaders like Martin Luther taught that nothing supersedes the authority of the Word itself. “A simple layman armed with Scripture,” Luther wrote, “is greater than the mightiest pope without it.”

 

In that vein, digital technology gives users the text, plain and simple, without the interpretive lens of established authorities. And it lets users share interpretations with other non-authorities, like family members, friends and coworkers. With the Bible on iPhone’s, iPad’s and ‘tablets’ of various kinds, believers can bypass constraining religious structures – otherwise known as denominations and brick-and-mortar churches – in favor of a more individualized connection with God. We can’t see God, and we can’t see the internet visually, yet people who have a hunger and a thirst for God – or at the very least some power greater than themselves – connect with God this way. This website is based on that fact, that there is an emerging new power outlet that we can plug in to that is like a direct link to God. Churches are getting on the Web in droves because they are discovering the same thing. There is an intensity now, a burning desire to bring ourselves as close as we can get to God, because millions of Christians all over the world are beginning to recognize that we are living in the Last Days. There is now a growing sense of urgency to get as many souls into God’s kingdom as can be because we are all running out of time! The more ways we can find to do this, the better.

 

This helps solve a problem that Christian leaders are increasingly articulating; that even among people who say that Jesus Christ is their personal Lord and Savior, too many folks don’t read their Bibles. Here in the 21st century, more than a third of those who self-identify as born-again Christians rarely or never read the Bible. They don’t even own one! Among ‘unaffiliated’ people – that is, Americans who don’t belong to a religious congregation – more than two thirds say they don’t read the Bible. Especially among 18-to-29 year old’s, Bible reading has come to feel like homework, associated with “right” interpretations and “wrong ones,” and accompanied by stern lectures from the pulpit. Today’s young Christians, or “millenials” if you like, have come to expect experiences that appear unscripted and interactive, which allows them to be open and honest with their questions. To put it simply, they are hungry and thirsty for an authenticity that can only be found by reading the Bible. If anyone reading this does not own a Bible because they can’t afford it, please send me your email addresses in the responses below, or contact me directly from this link.

 

This yearning for a more directly connected faith – including Bible readings and verses to inspire or console wherever and whenever they’re needed – is being met with an enthusiastic embrace. For growing numbers of young people, a leather-bound Bible sitting like an artifact on a stand in the family living room has no allure. It’s not an invitation to exploration or questioning. Young people want to absorb their spirituality the way they do their news or their music. They want to browse on Facebook, Tweet on Twitter, link up on Linked In, and Google whatever is left. They are also streaming Christian content on their various digital devices directly off the Web, bypassing cable TV and printed media completely. Thus we now have products such as “Youversion”, a digital Bible available for free on iTunes and developed by a 34-year-old technology buff and Christian pastor from Oklahoma named Bobby Grunewald. In an interview on a Christian TV channel recently, he said he conceived of it while on a layover at Chicago O’Hara International Airport, wishing he had a Bible to read. “What we’re really trying to address is, how do we increase engagement in the Bible?” he said. Now available in 113 versions and 41 languages, including Arabic, “Youversion” has a community component that allows users to share thoughts and insights on Bible verses with friends. It has been installed on more than 20 million Smart-phones since 2008.

 

Traditionalists (and I’m definitely not one of those) worry that technology allows young believers to practice religion without committing to what many churches call “a church home” – and they’re right. What they are really afraid of is that donations will falter as a result of this development. The very idea of not having the church participants right there with them so these hireling pastors can pass around a collection basket (or two) completely unnerves these types of ‘leaders’. That’s how you can tell if a pastor is in the ministry for the right reasons. Let me give you an example. I once watched a Michigan pastor named Rob Bell on a Christian video that I streamed off the Web. It was the eve of the publication of his new bestseller “Love Wins” (I don’t recall the date on the video, but it was a couple of years ago). It was said on the show that after the book-signing, many of Pastor Bell’s acolytes said they felt they knew Rob through his sermons, which they regularly downloaded off the internet, even though they had never met him. They hailed from places like Australia, South Africa and New Jersey. They listen to Bell while they’re working out, or commuting to work. They get their religion – like their meals – on the run. Pastor Bell is going about this in the right way, and traditional churches with their comparatively high overhead are being left behind in the dust of history.

 

The family Bible has long been given as a gift on graduation day or other big occasions and inscribed with special dates such as births, marriages, or deaths. Some of these Bibles would go on to become collector’s items that are treasured, protected and preserved. I can see a world in the not-too-distant future when the Bible may exist primarily online, or on a ‘thumb-drive’, especially due to the number of trees we must otherwise cut down to make the paper on which to print them. For right now, worship services and Bible studies are still done almost exclusively as public gatherings in a house of worship, or sometimes in a “home church”. But more and more people are beginning to trend towards Web-based Churches that offers a more personalized experience. As a result for some, the necessity of physically gathering each week in the same place with the same people becomes a traditional form of worship that has begun to fade into the past. Moreover, more and more people are getting by without the expense of owning and insuring (and fixing!) a motor vehicle. Without a doubt, these two trends represent a new crisis for organized religion if it has difficulty adapting to these new technologies that can reach audiences that number in the millions. This question already has organized religion seeking to redefine what it means to be a body of believers. Besides, with all this new technology, the faithful can now have church as little or as often as they want (but often is definitely better, even if it’s for only 5 minutes each time). Just remember to make sure your worship is as authentic as the Lord and Savior you worship! Search your hearts for the answer to this question. God sees all and He knows all. Above all, never stop praying and praising Jesus, because he’s coming back real soon.

 

 

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Free book excerpt #12 from pastor and Progressive Christian author Rev. Paul J. Bern

“The Apostles In Plain English Vol. 1: the Apostle Paul” by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Find out more by clicking here

Which Is Better, Being Lawful Or Being Faithful?

[Galatians chapter 3, verses 1-14]

As we begin this week’s study we’ll be looking at the first half of Galatians chapter three. In it the apostle Paul continues to take the church at Galatia to task because of certain heretical teachings that were going on at the time. Newly converted Gentile Christians were intermingling with newly converted Jews who embraced Christ as the Jewish messiah. Evidently the non-Jews were being instructed by unnamed Jewish converts to practice and live their new faith while also adopting the Jewish customs of their new brethren in Christ Jesus. Paul continues with his blistering criticism of this practice as we begin at verse one.

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing – if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’. [Genesis 15:6] Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the Gospel in advance of Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you’. [Genesis 12:3] So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Gal. 3, verses 1-9)

Here we see Paul summing up his point in one sentence when he wrote, “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” Since the observation of the Law of Moses – the first five books of the Old Testament – was fulfilled by the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Paul is simply stating that to continue observing the Old Law and its customs is both pointless and unnecessary. The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ is the embodiment of the new law, replacing the old. After spending all the time converting them and teaching them and founding a church, Paul is clearly exasperated with the church at Galatia because they had strayed from what he taught them was the Spiritual foundation of that church, none other than Jesus himself. It is not possible to obtain salvation through Christ by our good works alone, although it is good that we all do so whenever and wherever we can. We can do so only two ways according to Scripture; the first is by maintaining a totally committed faith in Christ and his Salvation, and the second is by grace that God bestows upon us through his Son. Grace is defined as unmerited favor, the spiritual equivalent of a free pass. Even though none of us deserves it due to our sins, grace is given to us freely as a token of God’s love for us when we accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. So if you ever need evidence that God really does love you, just think about His grace as you bask in its warm light. If you are already a believer, just focus on that in your mind. And if you aren’t yet a believer, now would be a good time to become one. Simply ask Jesus to come and live inside your heart, and to stay there forever.

The other thing the apostle Paul explains (or more likely reiterated) to the church at Galatia is the concept of unity between Jew and Gentile when he wrote, “Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith”… Paul is clearly citing this as another reason to put away the traditions of old and replacing them with the then-new concept of Jesus Christ as the Jewish and Gentile messiah and as the Son of God. If any of you read my studies on the book of Romans, Paul touched on that same topic when he wrote, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of Son-ship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ …” (Romans 8: 15-17) So you see, Paul was literally telling the Galatian congregation that they were already adopted into the family of God, and that there was nothing extra or special that they needed to do to join the family. Moreover, since our adoption into God’s eternal family is through Jesus Christ, whose lineage can be traced all the way back to God, that makes us all Jewish by adoption just as it says in Romans. I don’t know about you, but I find the prospect of being an adopted Jew quite appealing. If that is the genealogy of my Lord and Savior, then that is good enough for me. Let’s continue now and conclude today’s study beginning at verse ten.

All who rely on observing the Law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ [Deut. 27:26] Clearly no one is justified before God by the Law, because ‘the righteous will live by faith’. [Habakkuk 2:4] The Law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘The man who does these things will live by them’. [Lev. 18:5] Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.‘ [Deut. 21:23] He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3, verses 10-14)

The apostle Paul repeatedly quotes the Old Testament – or more accurately the Law of Moses, which was still very much the religious tradition of that time in that part of the world – in order to finish making his point. Paul’s literacy was the exception rather than the rule in those days, and he uses his educational level to his advantage right here. Clearly, Paul writes, “ … no one is justified before God by the Law, because ‘the righteous will live by faith’…”. This is the crux of the matter, which is that no one can enter into God’s kingdom – or the third heaven, as Paul called it – based on their good deeds and legalistic achievements. The only way to salvation is through our uncompromising and undiluted faith in the saving power of the blood of Christ. There is no other way by which any of us may enter heaven, and there are no exceptions allowed based on the teachings of Christ. If anyone tries to tell you any different, get away from those people and those churches because they are teaching a false doctrine, and they will be held accountable. But it is the truth, Jesus said, that will make you free, and anyone who is free in Him is truly and irrevocably free. And that’s the best news of all.

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Is End Time Prophecy Real or Not?

Setting the Record Straight Regarding

the ‘Pre-tribulation Rapture’

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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Jesus in the clouds

This week I have undertaken the task of setting the record straight about the so-called “pre-tribulation Rapture”, and how this belief is being disseminated on alternative and social media in a way that I suspect to be erroneous. Although my opening sentence may seem judgmental to some, that’s not my intention at all. Any fool can mask their foolish and rash nature behind a judgmental spirit, but this week’s commentary is more of an appeal and an outreach to all those who are seeking the truth about all this speculation about “the Rapture”. It turns out this is critically important information to possess.

The origin of the ‘pre-tribulation Rapture’ can be found in 1st Thessalonians chapter 4, verses 13-18, and continuing into 1st Thessalonians 5, verses 1-3. It reads as follows: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are left alive, who are left by the coming of the Lord, will certainly not proceed those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. Now, brothers, about times and dates we need not write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “peace and safety”, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”

Like the apostle Paul who wrote the quote above, I too am unwilling that anyone should lack knowledge of the truth, knowing that the Bible is in fact the ultimate definition of truth. By the way, the apostle Paul’s term “those who fall asleep”, is an ancient expression of the dying process. Paul’s next sentence is telling – “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” This, my dear readers, is the very essence of the Christian faith, and it defines the payoff for unwavering faith in Jesus. Anyone who does not believe Jesus died on the cross and then rose again on the morning of the third day does not have eternal life in and through him. Period, end of story!! Those of you reading this who do not yet believe, well, you have yourselves a decision to make – an affirmative decision for Christ Jesus our Lord!! Don’t take too long thinking it over, either, because – as you all will soon see by reading this – we are rapidly running out of time.

While people are saying, “peace and safety”, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” Interestingly enough, the United Nations has decreed the year 2017-2018 as the “Year of Peace”. Now let me share another quote about the Great Tribulation period from the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, and I quote: “The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolation’s have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven’. In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the Temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” As you can see by the text I used, the Book of Daniel is a deeply prophetic book, one of the most prophetic in the entire Bible IMHO. Although it is a complex book on several levels, let me cut to the chase right here for the sake of brevity and simplicity. “One ‘seven’” is a reference to a command given by the Lord to the ancient Israelites who had taken possession of the Land of Canaan, to let the land lie fallow every seventh year in order to give it a chance to replenish itself of minerals and other nutrients (see Leviticus 25, verses 1-7). This was, after all, an entirely agrarian economy.

The “ruler who will come” is none other than the Antichrist himself. His confirmation of a “covenant for one ‘seven’” is the stipulation of his ‘authority’ for the seven years that he will rule the earth. Although there is insufficient space here to explain this, the 7-year rule of the Antichrist will commence at the end of World War Three (see Ezekiel chapters 7, 38 and 39, as well as Revelation 18 for the full story on that). The Antichrist, not surprisingly, will rule from Jerusalem, since America will have been attacked but not entirely destroyed (see again Ezekiel 7 and Revelation 18). But at this point the USA will have ceased from being a world power, and the US dollar will no longer be the world’s reserve currency. He will rule for the first half of his seven-year reign because he will build the Third Temple and allow Old Testament-style animal sacrifices to be performed there. But due to many loud objections to the sacrifices of helpless animals, at the mid-point of his reign the Antichrist will order the sacrifices to be stopped so that he should be worshiped as God in the Third Temple. This is the “abomination that causes desolation” Daniel wrote about, and Jesus quotes from that very verse in Matthew 24, which we’ll get to in just a minute.

In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering.” The Bible specified this because it is at this mid-point in the Great Tribulation period that the Rapture of the true Church, which is also called ‘the Bride of Christ’, actually takes place. To prove that we’re all still going to be here for the first part of the Great Tribulation, allow me to show you several verses from Revelation, the last book in the Bible, and I quote: “Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, ‘Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?’ The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for 42 months. He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He was given power to make war against the saints, and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names are not written in the Book of Life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. He who has an ear, let him hear.” (Revelation 13, verses 4-9)

“Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?” If military operations are going on in the Last Days we live in, and they certainly are today, this most likely is a reference to a global military force that has no boundaries in a world where the sovereignty of nations is no longer observed. I can’t speak for anyone else, but this sounds and reads like global government to me. ‘The Beast’, then, is obviously the enforcement arm of the military forces of the Antichrist. “The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for 42 months.” Forty two months is exactly 3 and a half years, representing the final period of rule by the Antichrist, the infamous world dictator who will declare himself to be God incarnate. What he will be instead is the devil incarnate, someone to be despised and vigorously opposed by all the true Christian believers of the world! Conversely, the length of Jesus’ ministry here on earth was also 3 ½ years.

He was given power to make war against the saints, and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.” OK people, right here is the first example of the proof I mentioned above regarding the timing of the Rapture of the Bride of Christ. If the Church has already been ‘raptured’ away before the Tribulation starts, or at its beginning, then how come the Antichrist can make “war against the saints”? He can’t make war against the true believers if they’re no longer here, so obviously during the earlier part of the 7-year Tribulation period the Christian believers will still be on earth. This also means that, as a result of the refusal of the True Believers to accept the mark of the beast, the number of his name or to worship his image, Christians will have to set up large underground networks to obtain food, shelter, and in many cases for their own safety. Christianity as a Church and as a belief system will have to go underground in order to survive during this extraordinarily dangerous time, and all the children will have to be home-schooled. But if the parents explain these things to their children, the children will understand they are part of something much bigger than themselves, and they will embrace it wholeheartedly if encouraged. The Spirit of the Lord will make it so!

And now for the third and last part of this week’s commentary, to find out if Christian believers will have to endure part of the Great Tribulation – and the persecution that will surely accompany it – let’s go straight to the source and read what Jesus had to say about this very topic, and I quote: “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and be put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of many will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24, verses 9-14)

Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and be put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” OK, if the Rapture of the Church is supposed to happen before the Great Tribulation starts, then why did Jesus tell the apostles we (including themselves) will be persecuted and put to death? Obviously both can’t be happening at once, that makes no sense. The answer is exactly what the prophet Daniel foretold. At the midpoint of the 7-year reign of the Antichrist, when the sacrifices to God are forcibly stopped and he sets himself up in the yet-to-be-built Third Temple as the personification of God, that’s when God puts his foot down and says, “That’s it!! I am finished with you!!”. But before he initiates the punishment of humankind for worshiping the beast, his image or the number of his name, and for following the False Prophet, he will first take his Bride out of harm’s way. That’s when the True Church will be taken up, and so to be with the Lord forever. Therefore, as the apostle Paul wrote, “encourage one another with these words”.

Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of many will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Is there an increase in wickedness today? You better believe there is! Has the love of many grown cold as a result? Without a doubt – people today often stay single because they have a hard time trusting others due to negative experiences in their past relationships. By the same token, people’s love for God, for Jesus and all he represents, and their compassion and empathy for others has also run cold. Besides the reasons I already stated, this is because everyone today is so financially strapped that they don’t even have the ability to help the less fortunate even if they really want to – as they should. So everyone is scared of giving, scared of loving, and scared of trusting. This truly is a sorry state of affairs for us to be in. But as verse 14 says, once the Gospel is preached throughout the earth, then – and only then – the end of the age will come. Not the end of the world, mind you. The earth isn’t going to collide with another planet, so you can put those fears to rest! But the end of the world as we have known it will end. This will be a world without wars, a world where companies operate as either nonprofits, co-ops or employee-owned businesses, a world where higher education and medical care are all free of charge, and where economic parity or equality will be the law of the land! And Jesus will be in charge of it all from the world’s new capital city, Jerusalem! But we have to go through a storm first, the likes of which none of us has ever seen before. But if we hold on together and ride this storm out, eternal peace and tranquility awaits us on the other side!

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Multiple Hurricanes and God’s Fury

Hurricanes Are In the Bible, and So Is America’s Judgment

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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walking on water

Hurricanes are arriving as twins! Soon they may arrive in three’s, I don’t know. Hopefully we should be reminded to stop and see what the Bible says about things like this. After all, to have so many storms happening at once is most unusual. Here are a few scriptures to seek God about, starting with two of the major prophets from the Old Testament, Jeremiah and Isaiah. In this first example from Jeremiah 23, verses 17-20 it says, “They keep saying to those who despise me, ‘ The Lord says, ‘You will have peace’ , and to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts, they say, ‘No harm will come to you.’ But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord, to see or hear his word? Who has listened and heard his Word? See, the storm of the Lord will burst out in wrath, a whirlwind swirling down on the heads of the wicked. The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he fully accomplishes the purpose of his heart. In the days to come you will understand it clearly.”

 

Here in the 2nd example from Isaiah 40, verses 21-24 the Word of the Lord reads, “Have you never heard or understood? Are you deaf to the words of God – the words he gave before the world began? Are you so ignorant? It is God who sits above the circle of the earth. The people below must seem to him like grasshoppers! He is the one who spreads out the heavens like a curtain and makes his tent before them. He judges the people of the world and brings them all to nothing. They barely get started, barely taking root, when he blows on them and their work withers. The wind carries them off like straw.” Every few years, or maybe another decade or so, another hurricane comes along and really clobbers the southeastern and Gulf coasts of the US. Soon after, the rebuilding process starts, often taking many years, and everything is fine until the next one comes along, which restarts the whole cycle yet again. Isn’t this exactly what the Bible was talking about? Of course it is!

Jeremiah 25: 32 says, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Look! A disaster is spreading from nation to nation; a mighty storm is rising from the ends of the earth.” Storms have come and gone before, America is only the latest target selected by God. But why America, and why now? Just think about it for a minute – even if some disagree with what I’m about to write. This is not going to be a popular thing to say, but the ugly truth is that America as a country stands judged by God. Our country is the world’s largest exporter of armaments and weapons of every kind, we produce by far the most pornography, and we have the largest rates of murder and incarceration in the world. We are the world’s largest polluter of the air, water and soil. In fact, the United States is systematically poisoning the entire planet! We have by far the world’s largest and most formidable military, and when we send our sons and daughters overseas to fight America’s illicit wars, fully 20% of them return as psychiatric basket cases. The reason for this is that they have witnessed killing on a scale so massive that it is beyond their comprehension. Forced outside the scope of their experiences, some of these well-meaning individuals simply never make it back home again. Their brains are still off somewhere else, fighting a battle that only exists in between their ears. This, my dear readers, is what war does to people! It shatters the human psyche beyond repair, which is why we must be vigorously opposed to warfare! Ban war forever!

So it is for these reasons that God has brought, and will continue to bring, judgment upon this country for its crimes, and judgment on those people who stand with her as she does so! Is this insufficient for anyone? Does anybody need still more reasons why God would punish America? We have more abortions than any other country. One fourth of our children are currently homeless. For most of them, their free school lunch is the only food they have access to. Institutionalized racism still abounds in the US and nothing is being done about it. Our banking system is completely fraudulent and flies in the face of Scriptures (see Exodus 22: 25-27, etc.). 99% of America’s wealth is in the hands of the top 1% of its citizens, and inequality is out of control as a result. Our country is populated by materialistic people who are addicted to their phones, to drugs or alcohol, or to pornography, gambling, or binge watching their big screen TV’s while they sit on their couches mesmerized by trite events outside the scope of reality. And if that’s not enough for them, there’s always Virtual Reality that they can play instead. We have become like demanding little spoiled brats who insist on being entertained 24-7!

Unfortunately for all these people, and what the majority of them haven’t even stopped to consider, is that when we are engaged in all these activities our attention is turned away from the One who made us, who watches over us daily while being like a dad for those who have none, and who loves us intensely – believe it or not! Our attention to all the things I mentioned above diverts us away from paying attention to God. Moreover, those who are doing any or all the other things I mentioned are ignoring God and his guidance, and have no relationship with Jesus Christ who saved their very souls! These intense and powerful hurricanes – and there will be plenty more, mark my words – are a warning and a judgment from God! We are to stop living only for ourselves and start living for others! Otherwise, America will be struck by still more disasters in the weeks, months and years to come. What we should be doing instead is devoting all our spare time to serving Christ by service to others. Jesus did just that in Matthew’s gospel chapter 8, verses 23-27, and I quote: “Then he got into the boat, and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the wind and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’

The disciples knew they were in a situation with no clear exit, that they were caught in a storm from which they could not escape. Like those currently stuck in Florida without the means to escape hurricane Irma, or those in Texas with Harvey, all they can do is seek help from the Lord, and to ask for his mercy upon us. Notice that Jesus was asleep during all but the last few moments of the fierce storm before saying, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”, before he calmed the storm. I think that’s what Jesus wants to tell everyone in Florida and Georgia. Only He can rebuke the wind and the waves. Even the wind and the waves have sense enough to obey Him. Shouldn’t we?

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Many ministers need to re-read their Bibles if they want to be effective

Those Who Sugarcoat the Bible Dilute Its Message.

They Will Be Judged by God!

By Pastor Paul J. Bern

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wake_up

The Bible is a gritty book. It’s very raw and very real. It deals with people just like us, just as needy and screwed up as we are, encountering a God who would rather die than spend eternity without us. That’s exactly why Jesus died for each of us, only to rise again from death and the grave on the morning of the 3rd day. Yet despite that, it seems like some Christians are uncomfortable with how earthy the Bible really can be. Although the factuality of the Bible through the belief in the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit is the foundation of all the Scriptures (with Jesus being the cornerstone), the Bible has a way of being just as earthy as a day of doing yard work around the house (if you’re lucky enough to still have one of those after the real estate crash of 2008). But there are others who feel the need to sanitize God by making His Word politically correct. God has already instilled true correctness within each of us because He alone is our source and our strength. Which is why any true Jesus follower has no time or patience for political correctness. I’m told that’s one reason why my weekly blog is becoming so popular.

 

For example, look in any modern translation of Isaiah 64:6, and you’ll find that, to a holy God, even our most righteous acts are like “filthy rags”, as the more sanitized King James says. But the original Greek and Hebrew didn’t say “filthy rags”; it said “menstrual rags.” But that sounded a little too gross to the Bible’s 17th century English translators, so they just relabeled it ‘filthy’ instead. And while churches avoiding talking much about Jesus being naked when He was on the cross, let’s pretend Paul said that he considered his good deeds “a pile of garbage” in Philippians 3:8 rather than a pile of crap, as the original Hebrew and Greek would have more accurately been translated. Oh yeah, and let’s definitely not mention the ten commandments in the Old Testament. That might be unpopular. Never mind that between the books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy there are a total of 630 of them. That could expose people as being the sinners that we all truly are. God forbid they should be so ‘offended’!

 

What’s the point to this rant? God’s message was not meant to be run through some arbitrary, holier-than-thou politeness filter. God couldn’t care less about political correctness, and I feel the same way. When I open my mouth, I don’t care if anybody ‘likes’ me or not, and so it is with God.
After all, it’s better to command respect than to desire popularity. God intended the Bible to speak to people where they’re at, caught up in the stark reality of life on a fractured and dying planet. There are dozens of Psalms that are complaints and heart-wrenching cries of despair to God – not holy-sounding, reverently worded soliloquies. Take Psalm 77:1-3: “I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help”.

 

And rather than shy away from difficult and painful topics, the Old Testament includes vivid descriptions of murder, cannibalism, witchcraft, dismemberment, torture, rape, idolatry, erotic sex and animal sacrifice. According to the apostle Paul, those stories were written as examples and warnings for us, as he wrote: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”(1st Corinthians 10, verses11-13). So obviously they were meant to be retold without editing out all the things we don’t consider nice or agreeable. I have gradually arrived at the conclusion over time that the Scriptures include such graphic material to show how far we as the sum of humanity have fallen and how far God is willing to come to rescue us from ourselves. God is much more interested in honesty than piety, and in our Spiritual state rather than in how religious we are. And that’s what He gives us throughout Scripture by telling the stories of people who struggled with the same issues, questions and temptations we face today.

 

Peter struggled with doubt and with a bad temper. We read all about it when Jesus is arrested at Gethsemane (Luke 22, verses 49-51). Elijah dealt with depression; Naomi raged with bitterness against God; Hannah struggled for years under the burden of her unanswered prayers. David had an affair and then arranged to have his lover’s husband killed. Noah was a drunk and Moses was on the run from a murder charge. Even Job came to a place where he found it necessary to make a covenant with his eyes not to lust after young girls (Job 31:1). Was it not Jesus who said, “I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”? It’s all a matter of priorities. “I desire mercy”, Jesus said, “not sacrifice”. Let’s not boast to God about how often we attend church, or how much one may “tithe” each week. Never mind your rituals, Jesus was saying. ‘Tell me about how much you did for others whether they deserved it or not. I want to know how well you treated others, and I want to know what you did to make a positive difference in their lives’. That’s all that matters to Jesus in the end! We either kept his commandments or we didn’t.

 

It’s easy to make “Bible heroes” (as Protestants might say) or “saints” (as Catholics might refer to them) out to be bigger than life, immune from the temptations that everyone faces. I find it encouraging that Jesus never came across as being pious or condescending. In fact, he was never accused of being too religious; instead he partied so much that he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton because he was perceived as associating with “sinners” (Matthew 11:19). His first miracle was changing water into wine, and it is documented in all four gospels that wine was served and consumed at the Last Supper. (So, people who insist that one must be a teetotaler to go to heaven when they die are not only incorrect, they are judging people they don’t even know.)

 

Jesus never said, “The Kingdom of God is like a church service that goes on and on forever and never ends.” Following Jesus is more than just being dutiful or subservient, but instead it is richly rewarding to the point of being exhilarating! Our church services can’t hold a candle to what heaven will be like. Jesus promised us that heaven would be like a homecoming celebration, an enormous block party, and a wedding feast to which all are invited, all at the same time! This idea was too radical for the religious leaders during the time of Christ, and in some cases it still is. There are too many churches today who are more concerned about vain traditions and pompous religious rituals that aren’t even in the Bible than they are about partying with Jesus. And that’s why they keep missing out! That’s why many of us miss out. Pardon me, pastor, but did you say ‘party with Jesus’? Yeah, I sure did! However, before I go any further I am well aware that there are some individuals who simply cannot touch alcoholic beverages at all, but I’m sure that the eternal party in heaven will be far better than that. There are still others who abstain by choice, and I have no problem with that whatsoever. I’m only saying that I don’t think it’s a sin to drink unless it is done to excess.

 

According to Jesus, the truly spiritual life is one marked by freedom rather than compulsion (“So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” John 8:36), and by love rather than ritual (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. ‘Well said, teacher’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices’.” (Mark 12:30-33).

 

Another hallmark of a truly Spiritual life is one focused on peace rather than guilt (“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27). I don’t believe some will ever recognize their need for the light until they have seen the depths of darkness. So God isn’t afraid to get down and dirty with us about life and temptation and forgiveness and grace. Only when the Bible seems relevant to us (which it is), only when the characters seem real to us (which they were), and only then will the message of redemption become personal for us (which it was always meant to be). Jesus saves us from the dry, dusty duties of religion and tradition and frees us to cut loose and celebrate! We don’t need to edit God. It’s our brains and our hearts that need a good editing. We need to let Him be the author of our new lives and the construction superintendent for our growing and expanding faith. The time is getting short, people! It’s time for all of us to lead more Spiritual lives, because Jesus will be returning soon, and at a time when you do not expect him. What’s at stake is where we will spend eternity, and there is no more serious subject than that.

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There Will Be a Guest Blogger This Week

While I’m away at the Piedmont Park Summer Arts Festival, I’ll be trying something new by having a guest blogger submit a post for just this weekend. So sit back and enjoy this 2014 article from Flickr contributor Ashley Campell (cross-posted by Rob Winters) on the nature of prophetic ministry and its notable importance. The first thing I need to do here is to define the word ‘prophetic’ in terms that are appropriate for Christianity. It does not mean, ‘to tell the future’. That is how the Occult defines that word, and you can be sure the Occult and Christianity have nothing at all in common! ‘Prophetic’ in Christian terms simply means to declare the Word of God in such a way that applies to the here and now. We carry out this task by relying on the Bible as our main reference from which to derive that prophetic Word. The guest posting below explains how we all can do this for our mutual benefit, as well as the benefits thereof.

7 Characteristics of Authentic Prophetic Ministry

11/19/2014 by Rob Winters, Power of God Ministries

cross posted from (Flickr/Ashley Campbell)

Nothing less than a Third Great Awakening will rescue the Bride from the quagmire of apostasy in which we have found ourselves sinking. It is therefore imperative that authentic church leaders emerge to awaken the body and spearhead rescue efforts. Much has been written regarding the restoration of modern day prophets and apostles and their leadership role in the church, yet some crucial responsibilities of these offices have either been overlooked or ignored.

 

For example, many prophets have succumbed to the body’s insatiable lust for personal prophecy and prosperity—speaking only what our itching ears long to hear instead of what our depraved hearts need to hear. Consequently, the household of God at large is on shaky ground, having huge cracks and cavities in its foundation. Devoid of righteousness and justice, many have been bewitched into adopting a gospel of boundless grace and have unwittingly plunged into the depths of hedonism and narcissism—all in the name of a loving and merciful God (Psalms 11:3; 89:14).

 

It is therefore crucial in this hour that the church embrace authentic prophetic and apostolic ministers whose respective roles encompass restoring righteousness and justice to our foundation. While many today are focusing on the restoration of apostles, it is important that we take a step back and reexamine the comprehensive role of the prophet. Although there are differences regarding some aspects of Old and New Testament prophetic ministry, there are elemental truths that can be resurrected from the Biblical account of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s temple under Zerubbabel (Eph. 2:19-22).

 

During Israel’s captivity, Zerubbabel and a remnant of Israelites were commissioned by Persian King Cyrus to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. After two years of rebuilding efforts, the Israelites ceased working on the temple for a period of 14 years due to Samaritan opposition. At this juncture the Lord sent two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to confront the Israelites. The result was their wholehearted re-engagement in rebuilding the temple, which they completed in only four years. What did these two prophets say or do to turn about this complacent remnant? Will the Lord commission His prophets today to awaken a sleeping church, and catalyze the body to rebuild our crumbling foundations? Let’s pray so (Ezra 5:1-2).

The following seven characteristics of authentic prophetic ministry can be gleaned from this account.

 

  • A Call to Repentance – In his address to the Israelite remnant, Haggai challenged them to consider their ways, specifically their complacency regarding the Lord’s house and their zeal regarding their own houses and possessions. Sound familiar? Similarly, Zechariah confronted their apostasy, encouraging them to repent and return to the Lord. Without a doubt, this type of bold confrontation of sin must first be heralded from our pulpits before we will ever witness the depth of profound repentance necessary to turn the church around and the world upside down (Hag. 1:2-9, Zech. 1:3-4).

  • The Voice of the Lord – Haggai’s account indicates that the entire remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet. In an age when so many claimed to speak in behalf of God, Haggai made a distinction between the Lord’s words and his own words. Today, the church is facing the same dilemma. Not all who say, “Thus saith the Lord,” speak for the Master. Some prophesy as a means to gain popularity and prosperity or to promote their pet doctrine. Therefore, it is crucial that the eyes, ears and heart of the body are conditioned to distinguish between the voice of the Master and that of a charlatan (Hag. 1:12).

  • The Fear of the Lord – Authentic prophetic ministry is also accompanied by the spirit of the fear of the Lord, producing genuine repentance and radical obedience. Haggai’s and Zechariah’s ministries yielded this kind of fruit, and so must prophetic ministries today. Like Jesus, prophets who delight themselves in the fear of the Lord partake of that same spirit by dwelling in the secret place of the Most High. Without the spirit of the fear of the Lord, preaching repentance has about the same effect as brow beating.

  • Stirs Up the Remnant – Haggai’s preaching “stirred up the spirit” of the entire remnant, inspiring them to resume rebuilding the house of the Lord. Authentic prophetic ministry should “cut to the heart,” provoking a passionate response to the Word of the Lord. Unfortunately, over the past 40 years the majority of American Christians have turned a deaf ear to the Lord’s command to humble ourselves, pray, seek His face and turn from our wicked ways. Consequently, we have found ourselves in a spiritual wilderness and our land is in need of much healing (Hag. 1:14; 2 Chron. 7:14).

  • Prospers the Remnant – The book of Ezra records, “the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel.” Although much of modern Christendom associates prosperity with wealth, the Old Testament word for prosperity means “to break out mightily” or “push forward.” Authentic prophetic ministry enables us to boldly break out of the bondages and eliminate the excuses that keep us from pushing forward toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Ezra 6:14; 2 Chron. 20:20).

  • Ever-Increasing Glory – Those among the remnant who were old enough to remember Jerusalem’s former temple wept over the new temple because it was most inferior. Nevertheless, Haggai prophesied that the glory of the latter temple would be greater than the former. Similarly, in these last days, while cathedrals remain dormant, our chapels and tents will be filled with hungry people seeking and finding the glory of God (Hag. 2:6-9).

  • The Burden of the Lord – Two of the three biblical references of the phrase “the burden of the Word of the Lord” are found in Zechariah. Much of prophetic ministry today is associated with man’s private agenda instead of God’s purposes—a product of what is on men’s hearts instead of what is on God’s heart. Conversely, authentic prophetic ministry begins with a burden from the Lord that finds expression through soul travail and a burning word from heaven that cannot be contained. That burden only comes by dwelling in the secret place with the Most High (Zech. 9:1, 12:1; Jer. 20:9).

Father, restore authentic prophetic ministry to Your church, that we might be awakened from our slumber, shaken out of our complacency and inspired to radically carry out Your purposes in the earth. Commission Your prophets, that they might carry Your burden, preach repentance and restore righteousness to Your church’s foundation, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Rob Winters is president of Prepare the Way International, an itinerant prophetic ministry based in Glendale, Arizona. He is author of numerous books, including Turning America Back to God and Prophets and Prophetic Ministry. For more information, visit his website at preparethewayint.com.

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Free book excerpt #8 from Author and Pastor Paul J. Bern

The Apostles In Plain English Vol. 1: the Apostle Paul” by Pastor Paul J. Bern

To watch a short video about the book, click here

 

 Preparing Ourselves For the Day of the Lord

[1st Thessalonians chapter 5]

When I closed out 1st Thessalonians chapter four last week, you no doubt recall my interpretation that we are to be living each day of our lives as if it will be our last. I cannot overemphasize this important truth, nor is it possible to diminish its importance. God is watching everything we do and listening to everything we say, and for a man like myself being in a position of Christian leadership, I am held to a higher standard by the Lord, because what applies to church members applies to me twice as much. Plus, as our Lord’s return for his Church continues to get ever closer, I fervently hope that others will follow my example and be continually readying themselves for His coming. And this, my dear readers, is a goal worth attaining at any time. It is at this point that the apostle Paul takes up where he left off, starting at the beginning of chapter five.

Now, brothers, about times and dates we need not write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying ‘Peace and Safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation from our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1st Thessalonians 5, verses 1-11)

Paul paints a vivid picture of the coming of the Lord. Of course, one might ask if this is pertaining to the rapture of the church, or to the Lord’s triumphant return three and a half years later (see the Book of Daniel chapter 12, etc). If you are one of those who has studied the rapture, the tribulation and the signs that we are living in the end times (never mind what you may have seen on TV or at the movies), then it is essential that we understand what Paul meant here. When he wrote, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night”, I believe this warning was meant primarily for the Church. Be ready, watch and pray that we receive purification from the Holy Spirit, so that as members of the Bride of Christ we may be found “without spot or blemish”.

While people are saying ‘Peace and Safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly…”. According to prophecy, before the Antichrist can come to power, World War 3 will have to occur first (also known as the Gog-Magog war of Ezekiel 39 and 39). There will also have been a series of natural disasters that will have occurred by this point in time (I don’t have time to explain that part in detail, so please bear with me). People will be clamoring globally to be free to live in peace, and to be safe from natural disasters; “… and they will not escape” can be translated into modern English as saying, “Total destruction will overpower them without warning, and they won’t stand a chance”. Nobody knows exactly what this means since all those other events have not yet occurred, and speculation would be counterproductive. All I can tell you is that the Antichrist will be in power for a total of seven years, and that one of his first acts will be to negotiate the peace treaty that ends World War 3. All the countries involved will adhere to this peace agreement for three and a half years. At that point the Antichrist will do something that breaks that same peace deal while elevating himself to something supposedly equivalent to God, as if there were such a thing. It is at this point that the persecution of Christians will greatly increase, and this will be happening in the US as well. This will be the “acid test” for all of those who identify themselves as being Christians. Either we take the mark of the beast and worship the Antichrist as god here on earth, or we refuse and continue to worship Jesus as the Son of God in heaven. Those who do worship Jesus will find themselves being martyred by the forces of the Antichrist. A time is coming when our Christianity will cost us our life. What will you choose? To quote the prophet Jeremiah, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. Since the Lord died on the cross for my sins, I would not have any problem returning the favor, knowing that like himself, he will raise me from the dead to eternal life. We should all be willing to do the same.

But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.” Remember who we are in Christ! We are the adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We were bought at a very steep price, one that no man would be willing to pay. We were adopted as sons and daughters of Jesus our Kinsman Redeemer, making all of us Jewish by adoption (see Romans 8: 15-17 or Galatians 4: 4-7, among others). We don’t belong to the night and we never did, we were born for the day and for the light from our very conception. “Let’s be alert and self-controlled”, Paul wrote. You won’t be ready to meet the Lord at the rapture if you’re in bed sleeping off a hangover, or after playing video games all night long. As I have said before, it’s time for us all to get our priorities straight. Jesus first, worship him first and always give him top priority in your daily living and you’ll find yourself living with an internal peace that was neither present nor possible before. I’m speaking from experience, and if God can do this for me then he can do so for you too. But we must ask Him first. Sitting around waiting for God to give any of us a hand-out will accomplish nothing, unless one considers wasting time an accomplishment. I most definitely don’t!

God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation from our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”. I will sum this up in one sentence – we’re not here to be on the receiving end of the tribulation that Jesus spoke about, but rather we will be protected from it if only we remain faithful to his Word. “If you love me”, Jesus said, “keep my commandments”. Jesus died so that we may have eternal life with him in heaven, a new dwelling place that we have not yet seen. Obeying His commandments is the second prerequisite, believing that he is the Son of God is the first. Having written that, let’s conclude our study starting at verse twelve.

Now we ask you brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (1st Thessalonians chapter 5, verses 12-28)

Respect the value of hard work, Paul is saying, and especially those who do so. Dirty hands and sweat can turn an otherwise boring day into a really fun one. This is especially true of the younger men and women who are still able-bodied enough to do so (unfortunately, that is no longer the case with me). Hard physical work is dignified provided that it is done constructively. “Warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” Build each other up, don’t tear each other down! Make the idle people either get off their butts and get to work or move on and stop standing in the way. It is written in the law of Moses, “If a man will not work he shall not eat”. Yet by the same token we are commanded to “be patient with everyone”. Give the slower people a chance to catch up. Better yet, why not donate your time and tutor a few to help them along? Now that would be in keeping with the Holy Spirit of Christ!

“ …always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” Sometimes I think the secular world understands this better than modern churches do today. Immediately after recent natural disasters here in America, there were armies on volunteers that descended on these devastated areas and helped clean up, doing whatever needed to be done. What surprised me was when I found out that up to half of these volunteers don’t bother going to church. Yet they understood the command and answered the calling that God obviously put on them. “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” Let the Holy Spirit always be in control of everyone, every life, in every situation and in all circumstances. Check out everything you see, hear or read to determine its value, or the lack thereof. Put problem people completely out of your life if that’s what it takes to get free from negative influences and all forms of evil. Hold on to the good and simply let everything else go. Such timeless wisdom!

May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” Paul closes out by replaying that theme of being found holy and blameless before the Lord, with the understanding that this is only possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. No one can do this by themselves, but only through complete reliance on the Holy Spirit can such a noble goal as this be achieved. The key is in the last sentence, “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” Total reliance on Christ will enable him to cause us to be holy, pure and blameless in the sight of God. Instead of being self-reliant as we are in most situations, we are to step aside and let Christ do the work, not for us but through us as we become willing conduits for his unequaled Spiritual power. That is the ultimate meaning of unity through Christ. Shalom!

 Available in print at

http://www.pcmatl.org/#!books-and-donations/c17et

Get the Kindle version by clicking here 

Or, get it for Apple/Mac or Kobo.com from here

Get the audio version on Amazon Audible from here

Many thanks to all!

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The Immigration Debate, president Trump and Jesus

The Progressive Christian Approach

to Immigration Reform

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this in any browser, click here! 🙂

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My message for today revolves around what the media and our politicians are saying regarding the topic of immigration reform, as opposed to what the Bible says. We have all heard both sides of this issue from Republicans and Democrats, from conservative to progressive to liberal, as well as independent voters like myself. President Trump went on the record earlier this week to advocate for even tighter immigration requirements than those already in place. I myself was formerly on the conservative side of this issue due to the fact that had once lost a good job in the computer/IT profession due to my being replaced by foreign workers despite the fact that I was more qualified.

 

Then one day in the late spring of 2008, I took a contract job out in west Texas under very favorable terms for myself. So, I put most of my things in storage with the intention of coming back to Atlanta where I live after my contract job expired. I had never been to Texas before, and I found a completely different culture than what I was accustomed to back east. There were three things I noticed immediately soon after my arrival. The first was the oppressive heat and humidity, the second was that people ate burritos in place of burgers, and the third was that approximately one third of the population was Latino. The first thing I remember thinking when I saw that one third of the population spoke only Spanish was that this must be ground zero for ‘illegal immigration’, or so I thought at the time.

 

But I spent four months out there in Texas, and as my days turned into weeks I began to notice seemingly insignificant little things that began adding up to something much more. For example, I saw Latino men – and a few women as well – hanging around temp agencies, construction sites, and even at a U-haul truck rental company in the hopes of getting a job at least for that day. I remember being struck by the parallels between what those Latino folks were having to endure as they searched for work, and a piece of the so-called ‘American dream’, compared to my own previous job search experiences. Some of these workers lived at homeless shelters, others in campers or vans, and the more prosperous ones lived in rented mobile homes or apartments. I saw the same thing day after day, with hundreds of workers gathered around in groups of as few as eight or ten, and as many as several dozen. And so I found myself beginning to question my own intense dislike of these immigrant workers. I mean, all they really wanted was a chance at a new life in a safer and cleaner environment. What’s wrong with that?

 

Before I go any further with this message, I think I should point out that my basis for resenting many of these immigrant workers was economic rather than racial. Nevertheless, thanks to my “education”, my beliefs and opinions had been heavily slanted towards an American rather than a world view. So I found myself beginning to question my own motives for feeling the way I did. As I did some research on-line, what I found explained the cognitive dissonance between what I had been “taught” and what I saw. The average worker in Mexico earns the equivalent of about $50.00 per month USD. When these same workers come to the US they make minimum wage, more or less, which is currently still stuck at only $7.25 per hour here in Georgia. Since a sizable chunk of these workers make less than minimum wage while being paid in cash under the table, I’m going to use a rounded out number of $7.00 hourly for the whole country. A 40-hour work week at seven dollars an hour yields gross pretax earnings of $280.00 per week before taxes and Social Security. But since many of these workers don’t work full time their take home pay is even less. At any rate, this works out to gross earnings of $1,120.00 per month. If each worker pays a regular tax rate as we Americans do, and many don’t because their employers are cheating the tax man by paying in cash, they wind up with an average net take-home pay of approximately $740.00 per month. But when you compare that to making only $50.00 (USD) in Mexico, $740.00 must seem super-tantalizing to our Latino brothers and sisters.

 

I challenge anybody out there to try and live even for only a month on substandard pay such as this! The bottom line is that this is impossible while still meeting our monthly expenses in a timely manner. In order to better understand this, instead of Mexico and the US being the two countries involved, let’s use the US and Canada instead. If any given American working professional were offered a job in Canada, what would that be in relation to the US and Mexico? For any Mexican/Latino who emigrates to America, the jump from fifty bucks a month to 740 dollars equals a pay increase that is 11.4 times the going rate in Mexico or, for that matter, any Central or South American country. Now, let’s contrast that to an American jumping ship and leaving the US to go and work and live in Canada. With an average net earnings of $35,000.00 annually (before taxes) for American workers, if any of us were to be offered a job in Canada – or for that matter any other developed or emerging country worldwide – at 11.4 times the going rate here in the US, that would amount to an increase in take-home pay to $399,000.00 annually before taxes!

 

OK, so let’s ask ourselves a simple question: Would you or I be interested in a pay increase of 11.4 times the amount we have been earning previously? The obvious answer is, of course we would! So, now you know why the Latino folks are migrating – legally or not – to the US in search of work. It’s not because they are foreign invaders on an economic and social offensive to overrun America like certain people always say. It’s because they are economic refugees from the third world who are searching for a better life for themselves and their families! So, instead of resenting or even hating this influx of foreign workers, the Christian thing to do would be to reach out to the Latino communities in all fifty states and minister to them. I don’t mean giving them a handout, either. Like so many long-term unemployed here in America, they don’t want a handout, they simply want to go to work. But I felt convicted in the Holy Spirit for previously harboring such negative and bitter thoughts, and I have long since repented of this.

 

Showing compassion to foreigners and strangers is central to biblical teaching and morality. “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 22: 21) Moreover, there are quite a few Christians who have started joining the fight to pass immigration reform, including myself. Congress needs to pass immigration reform into law because it is the morally right thing to do. Those whose position on reform is based on political fear, unacknowledged racial prejudice or worries about losing primaries to far-left ideologues are too often the same people who trumpet their religious convictions as guiding their decisions in public life – in violation of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state! Politicians who are professing Christians need to consider what their faith has to say about immigration. If they oppose reform and refuse to offer shelter or compassion to our immigrant brothers and sisters, they should (hopefully) begin asking themselves why. We must join with other faith communities in asking for a moral and religious conversation about immigration reform – not just a political one. God’s passionate, abiding concern for immigrants and foreigners, strangers and travelers – and for our neighbors – is obvious to anyone reading through Scripture.

 

It is the Biblical call to “welcome the stranger” and Jesus’ concern for “the least of these” that inspires and motivates us. “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:33-34). In the New Testament, the stranger, and all who are vulnerable, are at the very heart of the Gospel (Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan is just one example of many). In the book of Matthew, Jesus offers a vision in which caring for them is the defining mark of God’s kingdom: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:35-36).

 

That evangelical as well as mainstream Christians would finally act to reform the immigration system should surprise no one, and not just for theological reasons. Undocumented immigrants have joined our congregations; we understand the problem firsthand. They are our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. And we know that by reforming our immigration laws, we can create a system that also reflects the best values of our nation and the highest ideals of our faith. We act because, as the book of James reminds us, “faith without works is dead.”

 

For me, I think the biggest change hasn’t been in the pulpit, it’s been in the pews and out in the streets. It’s one thing when 11 million people are a statistic. But it’s other thing altogether when one of those 11 million is your friend, a human being who you now know as a father, as a husband, as a mother, as a co-worker, or as a worshiper. Our faith has always been about love, empathy and compassion. It compels us to do something, putting others before ourselves. If we take the principle of compassion out of the Bible, it wouldn’t be the Bible any more. Compassion is indeed all over the Bible, it’s written in between every line! I pray it will also be found in the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate. It’s time for Christians in Congress to stand up in support of immigration reform, or to explain why they won’t — as Christians. If they follow their faith, we will see the miracle we need. And let’s remember that there is no such thing as an illegal human being. Everybody has the right to be here.

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